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Chevron in US court to block $19bn Ecuador fine
by Staff Writers
New York City (AFP) Oct 17, 2013

Critics doubt Venezuela's anti-graft campaign
Caracas, Venezuela (UPI) Oct 16, 2013 - The opposition in Venezuela sees a war on corruption launched by President Nicolas Maduro is a witch hunt aimed at those who disagree with the government, analysts said.

Maduro is fighting on several fronts, including a stagnant economy, a dearth of foreign exchange, rising food import bills and unchecked crime rates. The former protege of late President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March, is finding it difficult to keep old Chavez loyalists in line, analysts said.

Media reports alleged some of the old guard, including retired military leaders, considered using violence to unseat Maduro and claimed such action would be justified and would not be a coup.

Maduro is accused by his critics of steering Venezuela toward one disaster after another and continuing discredited policies of Chavez.

Maduro's latest crackdown on corruption received mixed results. In the most high-profile government action the mayor of Venezuela's third-largest city in the Carabobo state was arrested on corruption-related charges.

The arrest was notable because Valencia Mayor Edgardo Parra is a member of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, and not an opposition activist. The opposition isn't convinced and suspects the campaign is related to a Dec. 8 local election that could prove to be an indicator of political discontent in the country.

About 278 people were detained in other alleged corruption cases and police announced investigation into high-profile thefts of state funds.

"We, Venezuelans, are not only going to choose mayors and town councilors, but also face, through the electoral process, the crisis the country is going through," opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski said.

Opposition critics cited Maduro's pleas to the National Assembly to grant him new executive authority, including wide decree powers, to deal with the country's problems. Opposition critics say those new powers will be used to target their rank and file.

After Parra's arrest, state governor Francisco Ameliach, also from the ruling Socialist Party, declared: "We will not protect anyone who commits a crime involving public funds, which are sacred because it's the people's money There are no untouchables here."

Analysts said the arrest of Parra rather than a high-profile opposition politician could be aimed at winning National Assembly approval of Maduro's request for emergency powers to deal with corruption and other issues.

Capriles called Maduro's call for decree powers "shameful" and a "political pantomime."

"How dare you tell us you'll fight corruption, when the people guilty of stealing public funds are exactly the same ones you chose to govern with you?" Capriles said in published comments.

Opposition critics say Maduro, if granted decree powers, would likely use them against political foes.

US oil giant Chevron went to court in New York this week to try to escape paying $19 billion in damages in Ecuador, accusing an American lawyer acting for indigenous people there of fraud.

Chevron wants a New York district judge to prevent lawyer Steven Donziger, Ecuadoran villagers and green activists from using the US courts to force Chevron to pay its Ecuadoran fine.

A court in Ecuador ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion in damages, later raised to $19 billion, to people from Lago Agrio in the Amazon for environmental damage.

But Chevron has almost no assets in Ecuador and is resisting attempts by the original plaintiffs to use the American courts to force its US operation to pay up.

Chevron has never worked directly in Ecuador but inherited the pollution lawsuit when it acquired former rival Texaco in 2001. It is fighting against having to pay the fine.

The New York case is the latest in years of litigation over pollution attributed to Texaco Petroleum, which worked in the Amazon from 1964 to 1990.

The case could have implications for lawsuits in Canada and Brazil, where the plaintiffs are going after Chevron's assets.

Commentators say the case could help to determine the extent to which US courts can pass judgment on alleged misconduct of American multinationals abroad.

In the US District Court in New York, Chevron is alleging fraud and violations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The hearings likely to drag on for weeks.

Chevron accuses lawyer Donziger and of seeking to "extort, defraud and tortiously injure" the firm by fabricating evidence and colluding with Ecuadoran officials.

It accuses Donziger and the villagers of extortion, fraud, obstruction of justice, bullying judges and witness tampering.

Donziger, who played basketball with US President Barack Obama as a student at Harvard University, has said the area Texaco allegedly polluted is the size of Rhode Island.

In a 2009 documentary "Crude", he acknowledges that legal practices in Ecuador are very different from in the United States.

"You know, this is how the game is played, it's dirty," he says in reference to "going to down to have a chat with the judge".

In a lengthy pre-trial opinion issued last week District Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote "there was probable cause to suspect a crime or fraud."

Chevron won a separate partial victory last month in its battle against a $19 billion fine by Ecuador.

An arbitration panel in The Hague ruled that it was protected from collective action claims due to agreements the Ecuadoran government had set with Texaco.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has called for a global boycott of Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, California.


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